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What the Obamacare Appeals Mean For Blacks

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The Affordable Care Act remains under fire. 

The federal appeals court delivered a serious setback to President Obama’s health care law last week, potentially derailing billions of dollars in subsidies for many low and middle-income people who bought policies.

In a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Halbig v Burwell, a three-judge panel ruled that Obamacare does not empower the government to offer subsidies to Americans who buy health insurance through federal exchanges – only those through the state.  This decision revolves around a section of the Affordable Care Act that reads subsidies should be available to those “enrolled through an Exchange established by the State.”

Obamacare provided for the creation of state-based and federal marketplaces, on which people can buy insurance plans. Although some states set up their own marketplaces, 36 defaulted to the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov. This court decision could mean premium increases for more than half the 8 million Americans who purchased subsidized coverage under the law.

Obamacare supporters within the government have said that the clause was just a wording glitch,” and in January, a lower court agreed that the law clearly intended for everyone to have access to the subsidies, regardless of the type of exchange their state has.

The Obama administration and congressional and state legislative supporters of the Affordable Care Act say the challengers are failing to consider the words of the statute in its entirety.

What does this mean for Blacks?

This issue is crucial to the success of the health care law and for African Americans because could dismantle the law and strip the promise of affordable care to millions who were once without. In many instances, states unable or unwilling to set up their own exchanges have Republican governors who oppose the Affordable Care Act. These states — including many that also did not expand Medicaid — span the U.S. Southern belt and include states with many uninsured poor and middle-class African Americans who could benefit the most from the healthcare law.

Through the Health Insurance Marketplace, 6.8 million uninsured African Americans now have options for affordable health insurance that cover a range of benefits, including important preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs. In addition, 4.2 million African Americans can qualify for health insurance assistance to help meet their monthly premium rate, if the law is not overturned.

In states dependent on the federal exchanges, African Americans have higher rates of hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer and infant mortality. The promise of affordable care brings forward the opportunity to change the African American health narrative, shifting the pendulum from one of chronic illness and foregoing care, to one of early identification, prevention, health and wellness.

People repeatedly cite cost as the main reason they go uninsured. Obamacare subsidies eliminate the financial barrier to insurance for millions. If the courts ultimately rule against the subsidies, it could once again segregate Americans this time into two groups: one of mostly insured people living in states with their own exchanges, and one where health insurance is still far out of financial reach, especially for African Americans, all thanks to a single “wording glitch.”

About Nurse Alice Benjamin

NurseAliceBenjamin-1

Nurse Alice Benjamin is a nationally board certified Cardiac Clinical Nurse at world renowned Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, California with more than 15 years of experience. She is an American Heart Association spokesperson and  first African-American nurse elected to the American Nurses Association/California Board of Directors. Benjamin is also a freelance on-air health expert and writer and hosts “Healthy Living with Nurse Alice” on Thursdays 9:25am ET on WENO 760AM. She has appeared on various national radio shows and TV shows including “Tom Joyner Morning Show”, “The Doctors” and HLN’s “News Now” and more. You can follow her on Twitter at @AskNurseAlice.